Meadowside is a 200-pupil community primary school in the North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough. The school was rated outstanding in all areas by Ofsted in January 2013.
Meadowside has been using Bluewave.SWIFT to manage its school improvement processes since June 2011 and it has been a crucial tool in the school’s journey to outstanding status.
Headteacher Nigel Ashley picks up the story: “The deputy head and I started here four years ago. We took over a school that was facing many challenges, including some results that put it in the bottom one per cent of schools in the country. It was a school experiencing tough times.”
In the first year of his headship Nigel and his team set about addressing basics at the school, including the improvement of behaviour management, and teaching and learning. Ofsted visited a few months later and gave the school a satisfactory rating.
Nigel and colleagues realised that they needed to make a concerted effort to develop a collective responsibility for the improvement of the school among all members of staff. This was where Bluewave.SWIFT was used as a whole-school management tool.
Bluewave.SWIFT School Edition is an online system that connects information and documents across school self-evaluation, school inspection reports, school improvement planning, professional development and performance appraisal. Schools can then drive improvement processes, keep ahead of ever-changing accountability and inspection requirements while saving time and cutting costs.
“A colleague in a school in Ripon was using it,” says Nigel. “They saw it as a system that could bring all aspects of school management together, where they could be accessed by staff and governors.”
Meadowside adopted the system, implementing most of its features within two months. The school uses the system for self evaluation, development planning and performance management. There are plans to develop the use of the CPD element soon.
“The online performance management system is used highly effectively as a tool to bring about further improvement."
The self-evaluation element of Bluewave.SWIFT allows staff across the school to take part in a ‘priority analysis’ of school-development targets, which will then create a consensus view of which areas need development. These might include teaching and learning, leadership and management and standards and achievement. These targets then feed into the school development plan. The system’s school development planning feature gives users the ability to develop a whole-school strategic plan, which then feeds into the development plans of individual areas of the school and the staff who work in them.
Bluewave.SWIFT proved to be crucial in the school’s last Ofsted inspection. “We used it as a tool to evidence our position with Ofsted,” says Nigel. “Over the past few years we’ve had a lot of staffing changes, so we used the system to analyse the lesson observations of teachers who were currently in post compared to previous teaching standards. We could clearly demonstrate the good and outstanding grades our current teachers were receiving and how much improvement had been made. It showed tangible progress.”
Ofsted inspectors were impressed with Meadowside’s approach to leadership and management. They commented “Self-evaluation and online data tracking are accurate. Well-organised action plans are used effectively to challenge the school to constantly improve.
“The online performance management system is used highly effectively as a tool to bring about further improvement. Regular and rigorous checking on the quality of lessons promotes outstanding teaching and professional development. As a result, the quality of teaching has improved significantly since the last inspection and continues to develop.”
The outstanding Ofsted rating was achieved despite the school going through a period of upheaval.“This year has been particularly challenging,” says Nigel. “We had a major building project at the school and there was an asbestos issue, which meant that areas of school were closed off for about five weeks. We also had several members of staff going on maternity leave. It was a period of transition but Bluewave.SWIFT helped us maintain momentum and consistency.”
Bluewave.SWIFT may have helped Meadowside to achieve its outstanding rating at the last inspection, but Nigel is keenly aware that the challenges of accountability don’t stop there.
“We are now faced with the prospect of performance-related pay,” he explains. “It will be interesting to see how Bluewave.SWIFT will respond to this. With the abolition of standardised pay awards you need a system that references closely against performance. Staff will be paid on how well they are doing. The performance management element of Bluewave is already very good, though.”
Bluewave.SWIFT has also helped to tighten up internal accountability at Meadowside. Governors have been trained on the system and each has ‘ownership’ of a particular area of the development plan. It means that they can track progress against development targets and challenge Nigel and his team. “I have found that the governors are more challenging now that we are outstanding because they are better at self review,” he says.
Nigel adds, “School leadership is about ownership. It’s about making your staff feel that they have a shared vision for the school and are actively involved in key decisions. Bluewave.SWIFT makes everything clear. I see it as a whole-school management system that encourages collective ownership.”